Q. What variety of lavender is the best for planting in our area? I'm especially interested in an intensely fragrant variety.
A. Although there are over 28 species of lavender grown today, most are not reliably hardy in the Chicago area due to our cold winters and heavy, wet winter soil. The English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, and several of its cultivars, however, are worthy additions to both your perennial and herb gardens. And interestingly enough, the English lavender flowers contain a very high concentration of the aromatic oil glands responsible for lavender's fabulous fragrance.
You might try any one of the following cultivars: 'Munstead' (which grows to 16 inches) or 'Munstead Dwarf' (12 inches), 'Jean Davis' (15 inches with pink flowers) or 'Hidcote' (15 inches). Many gardeners report occasional losses over the winter. Try to avoid loss by planting your lavender in extremely well-draining soil in full sun and by mulching it over the winter. In early spring, cut back your plant to a point right above where last year's growth started.